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Hamline in controversy over academic freedom, Islamophobia over decision not to renew instructor’s contract

Plus: iPhone crash detection software wastes Stearns County deputies’ time; electric firetrucks unveiled; MPCA issues air quality alert for parts of Minnesota; and more.

Old Main, Hamline University, St. Paul
Old Main, Hamline University, St. Paul

In the Strib, Liz Navratil reports, “The centuries-old artworks appeared on Hamline University students’ computer screens during an art history class early one October morning. The first showed the Prophet Muhammad — including his face — as he received a revelation from the Angel Gabriel that would later form the basis of the Qur’an. The second showed a similar moment, but with the prophet’s face veiled and his image surrounded by a halo. Adjunct instructor Erika López Prater thought she had gone above and beyond to help students avoid seeing the artworks if their religious views prohibited it. ‘I thought this would be a great opportunity to, among other things, speak to Islamic art with a little bit more nuance.’ she said. … Now López Prater no longer teaches at Hamline and the St. Paul private college is at the center of a painful national debate over academic freedom, religious tolerance and Islamophobia. Instructors are rallying around López Prater, saying the university’s decision not to renew her contract could have a chilling effect on higher education.”

For MPR News Dan Kraker says, “The day after Christmas, just before 5:30 p.m. the Stearns County Emergency Communications Center received a call with an automated voice, saying, ‘The owner of this iPhone was in a severe car crash and is not responding to their phone.’ … as it turned out, there wasn’t a crash. The call had been accidentally triggered by the crash detection software installed on iPhone 14s and newer Apple watches. The call ate up about a half hour of the deputy’s time. That’s not too terribly time consuming, said Jon Lentz, patrol captain with the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office. But he said it’s still concerning, because patrol staff respond quickly to potentially serious incidents.”

In the Strib, Rochelle Olson says, “Gov. Tim Walz jumped aboard the first Minnesota-made electric firetruck at the state Capitol on Monday morning for a short ride around the parking lot in front of the building. The truck was made in Wyoming by the international division of the Austrian-based Rosenbauer LLC, and the governor called the electric trucks the ‘future of firefighting’ because they are environmentally friendly. Rosenbauer has trucks on order from municipalities throughout the country and Canada, but so far, no Minnesota municipality has placed an order. The upfront cost for the electric trucks is significant, nearly double the $800,000 to $1 million cost of traditional diesel trucks, according to Mark Fusco, CEO of Rosenbauer America. But Fusco said the savings are immediate because the trucks cost thousands less per month to operate than the current diesel ones.”

An NPR story by Katelyn Radde says, “Children with obesity should be offered more intensive treatment options earlier, including therapy and medication, says the leading U.S. pediatricians group. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ new guidance on childhood obesity — the first in 15 years — moves away from ‘watchful waiting,’ or delaying treatment to see if children outgrow obesity. The group is now advising pediatricians to ‘offer treatment options early and at the highest available intensity’ for one of the most common chronic diseases among children. Untreated, obesity is associated with a range of long-term health problems including heart disease and diabetes.”

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For KARE-TV, Bill Strande says, “The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has issued an air quality alert for central and northwestern Minnesota, and it includes the Twin Cities metro area.  The alert took effect Monday, Jan. 9, at 10 a.m. and runs until Tuesday, Jan. 10, at noon.  Officials say the dip in air quality is because ‘light winds combining with moisture from melting snow will trap fine particulate pollution near the surface,’ according to a news release from the MPCA. The air is expected to improve Tuesday afternoon when winds blow in clearer air from the west.”

At KSTP-TV Josh Skluzacek reports, “Minnesota’s tax laws are one step closer to conforming to federal laws. Monday, the Minnesota House of Representatives approved a bill to bring the state’s laws in line with federal tax laws. ‘In some cases, Minnesota was the only state in the nation still taxing certain grants’, said House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth (R-Cold Spring). ‘There’s no reason the state of Minnesota should be profiting from money meant to help individuals and businesses in need. I’m glad we could kick off the legislative session getting this done for Minnesotans.’ The bill had bipartisan support and was approved by a vote of 132-0. It now heads to the Minnesota Senate.”

At MPR News, Brian Bakst says, “The abortion bill, which also covers access to contraception and fertility services, might not be far behind. Democrats made it the first bill introduced in both chambers. A bill to provide another half year of unemployment benefits to laid off iron ore industry workers has its first hearing this week and is deemed a priority. … Other prominent issues are drawing early attention as well, although they will no doubt take a bit more time to get to resolution. They include:

  • A proposal to allow people to get driver’s licenses regardless of their immigration status.
  • A bill to restore voting rights to felons upon their release from incarceration rather than their completion of a sentence, including probation.
  • A plan to stabilize the long-term care and disability work forces by accelerating rate adjustments around industry wages.
  • A bill to put up state matching money for federal infrastructure aid.”

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For the AP, Steve Karnowski writes, “Minnesota’s chief elections officer called on state lawmakers Monday to make it easier for residents to vote while protecting elections officials from threats and intimidation. Key elements of Secretary of State Steve Simon’s agenda are included in an elections package that fellow Democrats in the state House and Senate introduced last week. Others will be covered in separate legislation. As legislatures convene across the country, lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle are bracing for new fights on election-related legislation amid the continued false claims by former President Donald Trump and his allies that the 2020 election was stolen. Republicans are eager to tighten election rules further, whereas Democrats are seeking to make it easier to vote. Simon — who won more votes than any other candidate on Minnesota’s statewide ballot as he fought off a GOP challenger who claimed the 2020 election was rigged — said Minnesota consistently has one of the highest turnouts in the country by promoting voter access while balancing it with security measures that keep fraud at ‘microscopic’ levels.”

For The Hill, Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech writes, “People in Hawaii, Washington, and Minnesota have the longest life expectancy in the country, according to a new study.   A NiceRx study released Thursday found that Hawaii has the longest life expectancy of all 50 states at 80.7 years in 2020.   That number is about four years higher than the national average, which dropped for the second year in a row in 2021 to 76.4 years, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. … People in Washington state and Minnesota have almost identical average life expectancies of 79.2 and 79.1 respectively.”